“If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant” (1 Corinthians 14:37,38).
Here, we see two alternatives—spirituality and futility. Our choice?
A lady once hired a handyman to install a belt on her lawnmower. He spent four (!) hours with the owner’s manual to no avail; it was late at night so he finally gave up. The next morning, he returned and spent another six hours attempting to fix it. Amazingly, he still was unable to install it. Through careful investigation, it was discovered that the repair shop had given her the wrong belt. That poor handyman wasted 10 hours trying to connect something that did not even belong!
Friends, I am afraid the above scenario is where most church members—and even true Christians—find themselves. They are so busy straining and striving with a wide array of ceremonies, prearranged prayers, confessions, sacraments, rules and regulations… but are they really getting anywhere spiritually? Nay, it is a treadmill—and they are running in the same place on the same belt! The flesh has them moving, doing religious works, but they are too deceived to recognize the scenery has never changed!
The Corinthian saints were enthusiastically and actively pursuing spiritual gifts. However, they were using God’s gifts to do Satan’s work. First Corinthians 14:12 says: “Even so ye, for asmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” Being carnal Christians—so dominated by their sin nature instead of the Holy Spirit—they were busy utilizing those gifts to satisfy and glorify themselves. What futility!
Chapter 13—the Bible’s wonderful “charity” passage—is the core of three chapters that gently address the Corinthians for their abuse of spiritual gifts. Such gifts were to profit everyone, not just the select few “exercising” them (chapter 12). The gift of prophesying (preaching) was being ignored and the gift of tongues was being emphasized (chapter 14). These “zealous” Christians boasted in their “spirituality”… when, in fact, it was futility.
Today’s Scripture issues some extremely useful, corrective information. Had the professing church kept this passage forefront in its thinking 2,000 years ago when it was first penned, the professing church would not be presently disoriented, disabled, and defeated! We would do well to pay attention to it.
Despite the Corinthians’ passion in following “spiritual gifts,” it was nothing but the flesh (sin’s motions). First Corinthians 3:1-3 is such a sad commentary: “ And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.  I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.  For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”
Sure, they “walked” (verse 3). They were laboring instead of sitting around idly. However, we must never let looks deceive us. All that intense activity amounted to zilch, nothing. Why? Their underlying thinking was thoroughly messed up. Instead of walking in the light of grace, they walked in the darkness of the flesh
[carnality]! It was their own efforts instead of God the Holy Spirit working in and through them. Yet, in the confusion, they were unable to differentiate those two sources.
Who is truly a “prophet,” one who is speaking on behalf of God? Who is actually a “spiritual” person, one who is led by God the Holy Spirit? Today’s Scripture tells us, “…let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” The Holy Spirit through Paul wrote today’s Scripture to provide the Corinthians with a standard to discern between their own efforts and God’s grace working in them. We would do well to follow that standard also, for it is literally the difference between spirituality and futility.
What is true spirituality? To wit, what is the evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in the believer’s life in this the Dispensation of the Grace of God? Some claim it is “praying in tongues” and miracle-working; others argue law-keeping and diligent church attendance.
Today’s Scripture is quite clear that spirituality depends on one’s authority. Recognizing this truth, a wise Christian leader stated long ago: “The test of true spirituality today, the test of a man’s theology today, is whether or not he submits to the Apostle Paul’s authority and instructions.”
Perhaps you are raising the frequent objection: “Paul was just a man; I follow Jesus!” But did you really pay attention to the verse? “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” According to the Holy Spirit, the Author of the Bible, Paul speaks to us Gentiles on the Lord Jesus Christ’s behalf. Paul is not issuing his own subjective opinions or fallible suggestions. He is writing the commandments Jesus Christ gave him to give to us. Therefore, to reject Paul is to snub Christ’s present-day heavenly ministry!
The Lord Jesus Himself said in John 13:20: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” Acts 9:15 reports: “But the Lord said unto him [Ananias], Go thy way: for he [Saul/Paul] is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:….” If the resurrected, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ sent Paul to us—and He did—then we had better heed those Pauline directions, Romans through Philemon. Failure to do so is to fight against what God is doing today. This explains the source of the professing church’s modern dilemma.
Despite instructing the Corinthians to heed the Lord Jesus Christ’s words spoken through the Apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit anticipated disrespect and rebellion. Some Christians would still prefer religion (what they wanted to do, they would indeed do!). Read the latter part of today’s Scripture very carefully. To pursue their own desires, they would ignore God’s words through Paul. Skirting Pauline doctrine, they would then cleverly “justify” their activities using other Scriptures. (Sound familiar?)
In the 2,000 years since the carnal Corinthian church was urged to follow God’s spokesman to Gentiles, Paul (Romans 11:13), and warned not to be “ignorant” of his apostolic authority over them, a most unfortunate result is before us. Even at such a late date, the professing church has overwhelmingly and most pathetically failed to be spiritual. Instead of following the Apostle Paul as he follows Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), church members follow everyone else.
Roman Catholics elevate “Pope” Peter and his “apostolic successors.” The Kingdom Hall of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” stresses the teachings of Charles Taze Russell. “Christian Scientists” follow Mary Eddy Baker. The Church of Christ parrots Alexander Campbell. Joseph Smith still guides the Mormons. Seventh-Day Adventists look to Ellen G. White for instruction. The Lutherans to Martin Luther, the Methodists to John and Charles Wesley, the Presbyterians to John Calvin, et cetera.
Now, we will never, EVER say these people ignore the Bible. Their doctrinal statements and creeds quote Bible verses to some extent. But in addition to mishandling Scripture by quoting only the “preferred” phrases, they corrupt God’s Word by forcing on us verses that God never directed to us Gentiles in the Dispensation of Grace. They do not give preeminence to Christ’s heavenly ministry through Paul. Instead, their ignorant leaders—guiding them in confusion—place emphasis on Christ’s earthly ministry. (Christ’s earthly ministry was to the nation Israel exclusively, as Matthew 15:24 and Romans 15:8 expressly declare!)
Is it Scriptural to slay and offer our children to the LORD God? Why, yes, read the instructions in Genesis chapter 22. Would we be following the Bible if we built an ark to escape an approaching world flood? Of course, God commanded that in Genesis chapter 6! Is it Biblical for us to bring animal blood sacrifices for our sins? Indeed, the Book of Leviticus says so. Would we be following God’s Word for executing people who collected firewood on the Saturday Sabbath? The Book of Numbers contains those guidelines, you know! Should we sell all our possessions and give to the poor? The Lord Jesus said to in Luke 12:33. He also declared one could drink poison and not die in Mark 16:18!
When church members today say, “Every promise in the Book is mine; I follow all the Bible,” they do not mean that. Not one slaughters their children in sacrifice, not one builds an ark to prepare for a global flood, not one executes those who work on the Saturday Sabbath, not one offers animal sacrifices, not one sells all possessions to give to the poor, and not one drinks the poison. Why do they not follow these verses if they are claiming “all” the Bible? Those verses do not support their denomination! Why do they not “follow Jesus” in Luke 12:33 and Mark 16:18? It is too awkward and revealing!
The truth is, we can grab (“name and claim”) all the verses we want, but if it is not what God is doing today, we are wasting our time. Whatever is not according to God’s will shall eventually come to nothing. According to the Bible, the Dispensation of the Grace of God was given to the Apostle Paul for him to give it to us Gentiles. We thus need to listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say to us through Paul.
One can be “Scriptural” and still be completely outside of God’s will. We must be Scriptural and dispensational, aware of God’s current program. Yea, we should always respect a Bible verse’s dispensational context before we try to apply it to ourselves.
Notice Romans chapter 11: “ I say then, Have they [Israel] stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.  Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?  For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:….” With national Israel temporarily fallen, the ascended Lord Jesus Christ sent the Apostle Paul to us Gentiles with a special dispensation (or set of instructions for our faith and obedience).
Ephesians chapter 3: “ For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,  If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:  How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,  Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)  Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;….”
What Paul wrote in Romans through Philemon was not made known in Genesis through Malachi, Jesus’ earthly ministry (Matthew through John), or early Acts. Therefore, to constantly emphasize the non-Pauline Bible Books to the extent of diminishing the Pauline Books is to ignore a secret God was deliberately withholding at that time. Now that He has revealed that secret through Paul, ignoring Paul is to be completely ignorant of God’s current operations.
A sure way to engage in futility is to reach back into previous dispensations and/or reach forward into future dispensations, and force those verses on us today. To use Bible verses God once applied before our dispensation, or to follow Scriptures God will apply after our dispensation, is to fall prey to Satan’s “wiles” or deceitful strategies (Ephesians 6:11). If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, such Bible mishandling frustrates or hinders God’s plans for your Christian life! If you have not trusted Christ, such Bible misusage hides from you God’s current Gospel message! Christians remain confused and defeated; lost people stay unsaved and Hell-bound!
Satan would never discourage us from quoting Bible verses because he did it in Matthew 4:6. Yea, he used Scripture… but did not handle it dispensationally. As long as God’s Word is not “rightly divided” (2 Timothy 2:15), it furthers Satan’s agenda most ingeniously (without suspicion!). “We are in God’s will because we are Scriptural. Satan cannot deceive us.” Of course, to not use the Scriptures God’s way is to, by default, achieve Satan’s goal!
God is not currently forming an earthly people—the nation Israel. There is no water baptism and no tithing (mandatory giving) today. God is not telling us to confess our sins, follow the Mosaic Law, keep the Sabbath, offer blood sacrifices for our sins, sell everything we have and give to the poor, drink poison, heal the sick, raise the dead, look for “signs,” build an ark, and so on. God told other people in other dispensations to pursue and do those things, but He did not tell the Apostle Paul to instruct us concerning them. What futility to try to make God do something He is not doing today! If we will know what He is doing today, and will do His will today, we heed the Pauline epistles, Romans through Philemon.
God sent the Apostle Paul to us Gentiles to give us the Dispensation of the Grace of God, or Jesus Christ’s heavenly ministry (Ephesians 3:1-9). From Heaven, not Earth, Christ is speaking today. In this dispensation, God is forming the Church the Body of Christ, a heavenly people whom He has blessed “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). We are not the nation Israel; God is not finished with Israel. She will rise again after our dispensation (Romans 11:1-36)!
We are saved by simple faith in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as sufficient payment for our sins (Romans 3:23–4:8)—apart from any works of any kind. Upon believing the Gospel of the Grace of God, the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:13,14). We need no water (or any other) ceremony to “enhance” our Christian life. God gave us a new nature in Christ, power that produces good works and gives us victory over sin (Romans 6:1-23). The Law serves no purpose in our life because God’s grace teaches us to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts,” and “to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11,12,14). Jesus Christ died to put away sin, so we put it away in our life. Our hope is not God’s earthly kingdom (Israel’s hope) but rather His heavenly kingdom (Ephesians 2:6,7; 2 Timothy 4:18).
Romans is the most basic Book for this dispensation. It outlines justification and how to have a right standing before God. Therein we also discover sanctification, how God has set apart believers to do His will. Moreover, we see Israel’s past, present, and future statuses. Finally, there are basic but specific grace principles for everyday living. Three useful Pauline passages are Romans chapter 12, Ephesians chapter 4, and Colossians chapter 3.
We study all the Bible, but anything other than Pauline doctrine and duty is but futility! source